This was a tough one. Last year after careful thought I chose Israel as my favorite destination of the year, and for a while I thought the Middle East would get top honors again this year with Jordan. But the more I thought and reflected, the more I realized that my heart and head kept going back to one place without even a moment’s hesitation – New Zealand.
If you are a regular reader, no doubt you’ve just said “ugh” or “not again” or something to that effect. I know I’ve written a lot about this mesmerizing South Pacific nation, but it’s with good reason and I just ask that you bear with me as I explain why it was my favorite new destination of the year.
At first I didn’t even want to go. I was given the opportunity to visit through New Zealand Tourism thanks to my participation in the Blog4NZ project last year to help promote tourism to Christchurch. I didn’t want to go because I thought 7 days was way too brief to enjoy the country. I was right in part, it was a very short period of time, but I was able to do a month’s worth of exploration in that time and the Kiwi bug apparently doesn’t recognize length of time in country; I was bitten right away.
What resonated most with me is the sense of adventure that I felt no matter where I went in New Zealand. It’s a young country, both politically as well as geologically, both of which contribute to the stunning landscape. Mother nature has created almost every imaginable ecosystem on the two islands and around every bend is something else that quickly becomes the most beautiful sight you’ve ever seen. Until the next turn. The sparse population and government protection of important areas has helped conserve this pristine wonderland.
It’s not just gorgeous mountains, glaciers, vales and hobbit holes though that make the country special. New Zealand is the birthplace of modern adventure travel, and that’s understated. Kiwis will do anything for a thrill as I learned and in particular they love flinging themselves from impressive heights. For the foreign tourist, this means an unforgettable experience as you live life on the edge and enjoy the outdoors in extreme ways.
But that’s ultimately not why New Zealand was my favorite destination of the year. Actually, I can’t tell you why New Zealand was my favorite destination of the year.
The Japanese have a term for a fifth taste, Umami, a mysterious sensation applied to things which are delicious. New Zealand is my travel umami; something I can’t define but which is one of the best experiences I’ve ever enjoyed. This isn’t meant to be a cop-out answer, but it’s just how travel goes sometimes. There are situations when we like, or don’t like, a new place but can’t explain why. It’s the feel, the smell, the sounds – something tells us at a base level whether or not it is a place meant for us. This sixth travel sense doesn’t always rear its head, but when it does there’s no denying it.
Ultimately, New Zealand was my choice as favorite 2011 destination because it checked an oft overlooked box; it’s a place I would return to in a heartbeat. I love travel and visiting new places, but only a few resonate so deeply that I want to return and explore further. New Zealand is one such place and I can’t wait to explore more of this remarkable country.
What was your favorite trip of 2011?